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103 of 114 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Utopian Attraction, December 20, 2009
This review is from: Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era (Hardcover)
First published in French in 1999, Last Exit to Utopia examines the Left's refusal to take responsibility for the atrocities of communism, and the route of denial that leftists took after the implosion of the Soviet Empire. Although mainly dealing with the first decade after the collapse of communism, the work is prophetic in highlighting the continued support of genocidal movements by segments of Western intelligentsia. A note on semantics: Revel's use of the words "liberal" and "liberalism" refer to classical liberalism as practiced by politicians like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher or promoted by political philosophers like Friedrich Hayek; in other words, the polar opposite of what "liberalism" means in 21st century America.

Classical liberalism was revived a decade before the collapse of communism with Thatcher's election victory in 1979 followed by that of Reagan the next year. Even under conservative governments the United Kingdom had remained the same stagnant, union-dominated, state-smothered bureaucracy that led to serious economic decline throughout the 1970s. The effects of the Reagan/Thatcher revolution swept the globe in the 1980s when deregulation and privatization became popular policies worldwide. In France, Mitterrand made a U-turn away from his disastrous statist programs as support for the Socialist & Communist Parties plummeted. A landmark was reached in 1984 when he jettisoned his government education plan.

So by the mid-1980s France's leftist parties had failed while in Britain the Labour Party and in (then) West Germany the Social Democrats had entered a lengthy phase of exclusion from power. To top it off, the "model" welfare state of Sweden experienced spluttering growth and eventual stagnation. Yet for the most part the French intelligentsia blindly clung to socialism and leftist ideologues everywhere resisted the resurgence of classical liberalism. They resorted to crude propaganda using words like "unbridled" or "savage" capitalism and demonization at which they've always excelled. Due to the French mainstream media buying into this narrative, the French Right was afraid to propose bold reform with the result that the status quo continued as it did in most of Europe where only hesitant reform took place. By 1996, the average state share of (western) European national product was almost 46%.

Eastern Europe threw off the shackles of serfdom in a series of "velvet revolutions" during 1989 as the Soviet Union started crumbling. For a while, even the leftist media acknowledged reality by rejecting collectivism. A consensus emerged that the Marxist catastrophe had proved the classical liberal formula as the only viable solution despite its flaws. But soon after the 1991 demise of the USSR, leftist politicians and intellectuals launched a vigorous counteroffensive with the aim of erasing the clear conclusions of the collapse and the evidence of Marxist evil. Revel dissects their motives, arguments, strategy, tactics and success in pulling off this con game.

Their project grew in intensity and range as the decade progressed. Instead of choosing intellectual honesty and admitting their complicity in perpetuating the misery of millions of people, these leftists took refuge in obscurantist utopianism. Of course, they said, communism had not been implemented 'properly' in the Soviet Empire. And despite its manifest failure, it was a 'noble ideal', they insisted. Released from reality by events, the true believers returned to the roots of their obsession by restoring socialism to the realm of fantasy. Without the evidence of the Berlin Wall and the slave societies of Eastern Europe, utopianism could be embraced and the self-righteous fury of its devotees could be unleashed on the imperfections of the free society, the USA being the scapegoat and globalization the major crime.

Revel considers the reception of the 1997 publication The Black Book of Communism by many of the French intelligentsia as a significant turning point. This thoroughly researched exhibition of communist atrocities around the globe was greeted with rage, especially by the apologists of dictators like Mao, Pol Pot and Stalin. They avoided honest debate by stressing the "good intentions" of these mass murderers. Revel observes that Utopia is exempt from any obligation to produce results, that its only function is to permit its champions to condemn that which exists in the name of that which does not. He sees two sources for this utopian lust: Rousseau's doctrine that man was inherently good and society bad. Thus reforming society would reveal mankind's essential goodness. The other source, he argues, is the Catholic doctrine of good intentions.

By exposing the far left's protectionism and xenophobia, Revel shows how closely it resembles the far right, with reference to National Socialism and Karl Marx's antisemitism and racism. He subjects to scrutiny the practice, intellectual dishonesty and deception of the ideology as well as the psychological needs of its followers. Years ago he had already concluded that the totalitarian temptation is incomprehensible without considering the possibility that some influential groups in all societies contain people who desire tyranny - some yearn to exercise it themselves and some long to submit to it. Revel explains the strange attraction between radical Leftists and Islamists as a shared "excommunication of modernity," a characteristic of the Left rooted in the primitivist writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Revel who passed away in 2006 will in time be recognized as one of the greatest political philosophers of the later 20th century. His countryman Alain Besançon was another giant amongst French defenders of freedom; I highly recommend his classic work A Century of Horrors. And as soul mates of Revel we are fortunate to have André Glucksmann, Bernard-Henri Levy and Chantal Delsol, all of whom are making major contributions to the philosophy of liberty. Delsol's Icarus Fallen and Levy's Left in Dark Times are essential texts for those concerned about the challenges facing Western civilization.
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unmissable diagnosis, December 19, 2009
This review is from: Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era (Hardcover)
Last Exit to Utopia is an unmissable diagnosis of how and why the temptations of totalitarianism persist after the demise of both fascism and the USSR. It's vivid, convincing and disturbing in it's portrayal of the perennial impulse of self-appointed guardians of society (elected or otherwise) to control everyone and everything, and by others to be controlled. As Revel said: "The totalitarian phenomenon,is not to be understood without making an allowance for the thesis that some important part of every society consists of people who actively want tyranny: either to exercise it themselves or--much more mysteriously--to submit to it." It also fearlessly confronts apologists for totalitarianism of every stripe, not only Left and Right, but also assorted religious fundamentalists.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, March 8, 2010
This review is from: Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era (Hardcover)
A wonderful book written by a major intellectual who deserves a far wider audience,
and especially should have been more widely read in the West while he was still alive.
Densely written with masses of facts this serves as a very good precis
of the intellectual basis of both Nazism and Communism.
Pithy, witty and on occasion laugh out loud funny - quite a feat for such a serious book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard but worth it, May 9, 2011
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This review is from: Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era (Hardcover)
This is a tough book to get through for the average reader. There are many references to people and institutions in France that are unknown to the average American reader. But the essential message of this book comes through clearly and repeatedly. The upsidedown world we live in in which the American and European Left continue to romanticize socialism and even Communism is stunning. Revel does a good job of pointing out the hypocrasy of the Left that jails Pinochet but lauds and elevates Castro who is responsible for many more deaths. The chapter dealing with the horrors of Communism are astonding by themselves and should be required reading at every university, lest we forget! His comparison of Nazism and Communism and the similarities between the two is very interesting as is his exploration of why the Left has made sure we never forget the crimes of Nazis so that we do not look too closely at the crimes of the Communists/socialists. WHile this should be required reading of every university student taking a modern history class, we should at least encourage every parent of a university student to read this book.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rest in Peace, Genius, January 18, 2010
This review is from: Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era (Hardcover)
Length:: 8:09 Mins

I am very sad that Revel has passed on. I opened this book thinking I'd skim it and got so caught up in it I couldn't put it down. He knew the left as well as Roger Kimball and David Horowitz do. It was simply outstanding.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic, June 19, 2010
By 
Geoff Puterbaugh (Chiang Mai, T. Suthep, A. Muang Thailand) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era (Hardcover)
"Last Exit to Utopia" may be Revel's finest work. He makes many points worth remembering, such as the fact that the Left has an ideology, while democratic freedom-lovers do NOT. To drive this point home, he mentions French "intellectuals" (which frequently translates as French "morons") who complain that extreme right-wing free-marketeers rejected the USSR because it did not conform to their rightist "ideology." Unforgettably, Revel then states (I quote from memory), "We did not condemn the Soviet Union because of ideology. We condemned it because it was a vast prison full of slaves, a huge psychiatric hospital run by the nomenklatura, and the operating base for a gang of murderers. In other words, we condemned Communism for the same reasons we condemned the Nazis." This was not a question of "ideology," unless being in favor of good and opposing evil constitutes "an ideology."

Another memorable thought is that the leftist Utopia enables the leftists to continue condemning that which exists on the basis of something which does not exist.

The most memorable part of the book, however, is Revel's painstaking dissection of the reaction of the Parisian left to the collapse of the USSR. Where almost anyone of normal intelligence would have concluded that the collapse of the Great Gulag indicated that Marxism was a failure, somehow those brilliant French "intellectuals" managed to work up an argument that "proved" that the collapse of the USSR was proof positive that democratic free-market principles had failed. (Well, I did tell you that in France, the word "intellectual" frequently translates as "moron," didn't I?)

To put whipped cream on top of their sundae, they also advanced an argument that the true victims of the collapse of the USSR were themselves, suffering in a wintry solitude, "deprived of their dreams." NOT the millions who died in the Great Gulag or the Ukrainian famine, you understand. The put-upon victims deserving of pity were, guess who, the French "intellectuals."

Revel is a master at dealing with these self-deluding, self-important, incoherent nutjobs. I mean to say, just look at the last few decades: Sartre (an admirer of Mao), Lacan, Foucault (an admirer of Khomeini), Derrida: can you think of a loonier group of people?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great and commendable read., June 17, 2010
By 
AssOfBalaam (Alexandria, Virginia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era (Hardcover)
Fantastic book. Almost too good,in that it got me all riled up. The style is a tribute to the art of Mr. Revel as a Polemicist of the first order, and to the artfulness of his Scottish translator, who teased out a lot of subtle nuance, adding explanatory footnotes where appropriate.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book by a man who had lived and thought through communism, June 29, 2014
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This review is from: Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era (Hardcover)
Great book, meaty on the mark read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Exposing truth about western democracies in the grip of Utopian collectivism, November 30, 2013
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This review is from: Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era (Hardcover)
This book explains to those who are curious why western countries including Europe and the US have not considered the truth about communism/socialism, that central planning by elites in academia and government destroyed the wealth and freedom of every people who espoused such. I have sought to understand what happened and this book is key to such. Too bad Revel died before the meltdown of economies in 2008 and the continued economic disaster playing out around the world. The 20th century was the age of collectivist thinking and central control. Such has caused the 21st century to start off with welfare states declining in prosperity for the common people and increasing for the top 1%, just like the USSR...The Road to Serfdom....all over again.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the problem with ideology, March 4, 2012
By 
Lester M. Stacey (Las Vegas, Nevada USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era (Hardcover)
In his previous book The Flight from Truth, on page 79, Revel writes:

"Whether in the fields of economics, social guarantees, industrial modernization, freedom of the press, or education, all of the socialist parties in power in Europe today have in practice been veering toward neolibralism or simple realism."

Note: "simple realism": where ideology seemed to be veering toward.

While on page 348, Revel writes:

"As Swift once wrote: 'You cannot reason a person out of something he has not been reasoned into.'"

Ideology is not about reason. Realism was not the objective. Reason was not the means. The observations of this new book should have come as no surprise.

The problem of ideology is real and serious. It extends beyond reasonable arguments.

This book and Revel's work as a whole make this crystal clear.

Philosophy in Crisis: The Need for Reconstruction (Prometheus Lecture Series) provides a potential tool to use in solving the problem.

Scientific Realism: Selected Essays of Mario Bunge provides a good account of realism for anyone interested in what comes after ideology.
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Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era
Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era by Jean François Revel (Hardcover - December 15, 2009)
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